War Dogs: What’s Not Said

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In Katherine Selbert’s War Dogs, Winston Churchill and his poodle Rufus are wonderfully compatible, and so are the author-illustrator’s words and pictures. This glimpse into Churchill’s life during World War II is a great example of how much of a story can be omitted from the text and carried by a combination of the pictures and skillfully placed tip-offs. Nowhere in War Dogs does the text say that Rufus is a poodle, or even a dog. It doesn’t need to. The illustrations reveal his size, color, and breed. He sniffs, his ear twitches, he begs Mrs. Churchill for treats, he holds Winston’s hat in his teeth.

Selbert’s words do double duty to inform the reader that the prime minister and Rufus are alike in many ways. Winston sets his shoulders like a tenacious bulldog when he addresses the House of Commons, he works doggedly with his advisers on the invasion plans, and he bundles into a woolly coat. The ending reveals that Churchill was known as the British Bulldog. The final two-page spread satisfies by closing the loop, echoing the book’s title: “They rest in the country at last, two war dogs.”

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